Who Says You Can’t Go Back to Camp Again?


In 2010, Xani Pollakoff and Josh Feldman were counselors at Olin Sang Ruby Institute, a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin.

It was Feldman’s first and only summer there. But Olin Sang Ruby had been a big part of Pollakoff’s life. She started attending at the age of 10, and by the time she and Feldman were counselors, she met many of her closest friends.

In 2015, after moving from the Midwest to Washington, D.C., Pollakoff (her first name is pronounced Zah-nee) and Feldman were married.

Last month, the couple, both 30, hosted a Shabbat dinner in their apartment in the District’s Michigan Park neighborhood. Their guests were a dozen of their old camp friends.

“This is just a dwindled version of what we once were,” says Pollakoff.

The group sharing a Shabbat meal and talking about old times was part of a migration of 30 camp friends who moved mainly from the Midwest to Washington to be together. Most came between 2010 and 2012, around the time they graduated college.

“We all moved for various reasons, but the biggest reason was to be together,” Pollakoff says. “There’s just this intentional space that we’ve created. This isn’t random.”

In the crowded apartment, they finish each other’s sentences, talk over each other and use camp slang that an outsider found baffling.

The group member with the longest camp history is Lital Ehrlich, whose mother worked at Olin Sang Ruby. “So I’ve been going since I was a baby,” she says. She met her husband, Cole Liter, at camp.

The group’s greatest bond was all the time they had spent together as children. Even the campers by choice, the name given to spouses who didn’t attend Olin Sang Ruby, know the traditions. “This feels like a dream,” says one camp spouse who had attended her own camp and has her own camp friends, “to be able to live so close to camp friends.”

It was during a day trip some members of the group took to Milwaukee during the summer of 2009 that the first seeds of the migration were planted, Pollakoff says.

“I told my mom that we were all moving to Portland [Oregon] together and the idea was we were going to be somewhere together,” she says. “We didn’t know where.”

The group spent spring break during their senior year of college in Washington. That’s when the idea of moving here took hold. After one of the friends moved here, the rest began to follow, moving into or near the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Most lived within two blocks of each other, and many of them were roommates.

Nearly a decade after their migration, the camp friends meet up each week. “We’re in each other’s lives intentionally and in all aspects,” one says.

More than childhood friends, they’re a mutual aid society. “I think we all know on a practical level that if we need anything, we will drop anything and do it,” Ehrlich says, remembering the time when they helped an injured friend get to the hospital for stitches.

Since those summers in the Wisconsin woods, they’ve watched each other grow and mature. They’ve started careers, fallen in love, gotten married.

“Our adult lives are not just about camp anymore, we’ve grown with each other,” is how one puts it.

Feldman says their camp experience has helped them navigate their adult lives in Washington.

“At camp, you’re independent from your family and your friends from home. But you also have this dependence on your friends that you make at camp, because you don’t have your parents. You’re relying on those around you to be your community and help connect and make sense of everything,” Feldman says.

That connection, he and his friends say, is invaluable.

Samantha Cooper is a reporter at Washington Jewish Week, a sister publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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